Monday, 5 May 2008


I've been up to a few adventures since I last posted, so it's hard to know where to start, I guess I'll just post what I did first, before I forget what I actually got up to. So one of my last weekend adventures involved a day trip out to Strasbourg, perhaps in the past this wouldn't have really been possible, but now that the TGV (France's fast train network) is linked with Strasbourg, from late 2006, you can cover the approximately 400kms in a little over 2 hours.

Strasbourg must be an impressively rich city, it is so amazingly clean, I don't think I've seen such a clean city before, even in Germany. Even the homeless people there were really neat, well most of them anyway. On a canal ride I did we went past one homeless person's house under a bridge, he wasn't in, and every thing was stacked and folded neatly on shelves, and he had a table and chairs and all the shoes put away properly too. It looked like a real home, just without walls. I wonder if the council make the homeless live like that to keep the bureaucrats happy.

The reason for the richness is it is home to the European Parliament, the European Court of Human Rights and the European Council as well as all the associated bureaucrats. In the photo above you can see these EU buildings, they stand out a bit amongst the traditional architecture. They did do a smart thing with choosing to build these modern buildings about 2km away from the lovely old centre of town, so unless you went searching for them you wouldn't even know the EU was there. Except when the parliament is in session and then the whole town is probably seething with suits.

You can see in the photo to the left one of the many cockroach-esque boats cruising along the canals with the numerous half-timbered houses of the old part of Strasbourg.

I don't know how the EU chose the city to hold their parliament but whichever one they chose was going to get a massive amount of money pumped into it, and lucky old Strasbourg won. I was a little surprised that it was only linked to Paris with a fast train so recently, being home to the EU and all, but then it has only been recently that air travel has become such a hassle what with all the security checks and so the bureaucrats haven't needed an alternative until now.

Strasbourg has had a funny history, being in the middle of a tug of war between France and Germany since the 16th century. Up until 1681 Strasbourg was ruled by it's own council of citizens, apparently giving the city a democratic feel. Johann Gutenberg lived here between 1434 and 1444 whilst he worked on his printing press and a number of members of the Reformation lived here as well.

From 1681 Strasbourg was ruled by the French though it has oscillated between France and Germany throughout the centuries. In fact this area of France seems to always be the first area annexed by the Germans in any war. Because of this swapping Strasbourg has a real German feel. It is known to the rest of the French as a city that is well-organised, tax paying and hard working, which I suppose are not typically French traits. The food in the restuarants also seems to be very German-esque what with the sauerkraut and massive amounts of pork and potatoes.

The photo to above is apparently the most photographed building in Strasbourg, it used to be the tanner's building, nice place for such a smelly occupation, and it is right in the middle of Petit France, which is an island linked with locks and bridges in the middle of the river Ill which runs through Strasbourg. Here is really the main concentration of half-timbered houses. This area used to be the tanners district so the houses didn't use to have roofs, I guess to let the smell escape. I'm guessing Strasbourg wasn't so pretty back then.

Even though it has swapped so much between Germany and France, the Germans really wanted an outpost on the other side of the Rhine, it seems as if the city hasn't been damaged much at all between the various interchanges. Which is really lucky for the tourists as it means the whole of the old city is still almost entirely the half-wooden houses. The cathedral is also pretty amazing, it is still very much in the usual gothic style like every other church I have seen in France, but this one is made from a particular stone which must be common around Strasbourg as quite a few churches had this striking pinky-red colour from the red standstone. What was also most spectacular was the trouble the builders had gone to on the outside, really lacy. It was actually really hard to get a good photo of the church because it was so big, so instead you only get part of the front, though perhaps the next photo is a little better to see the lace aspect.

Just opposite the church they had an art-gallery/museum of the old religious art, so I just had to show you the freaky religious art again. This painting is of one of the Mary's and some other lady and they have shown the little babies inside them through their dresses, strange.

As well as all the old-school art, they also had a brand new contemporary art gallery, also a little out of the old part of town. And some of the stuff there was pretty cool. I liked this weird ice-cream man sculpture outside the front entrance, though I guess you could say that he is meant to be made from something not so nice as ice-cream.

Then there was also this piece of cut-up guitars, it was titled something like response to cubism and it is true that Picasso did seem to have an obsession with guitars.

I also had to show you the strangest modern art piece, but I don't think it is as strange as the ladies with embryos, on the TV was playing a movie of waves breaking on the shore. I suppose it is an artists representation of the beach, I guess Strasbourg is a long way from the ocean, so perhaps they don't know any better there, but really, this is no representation of any beaches I know.

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